Har­vick at ease in must-win sit­u­a­tion

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer

Kevin Har­vick has been backed into a cor­ner be­fore in NASCAR’s elim­i­na­tion­style play­offs. Put Har­vick in a must-win sit­u­a­tion, and he’s proven re­peat­edly he can de­liver.

So here he is, again, at Phoenix In­ter­na­tional Race­way in need of a vic­tory to con­tinue his bid for a sec­ond Sprint Cup cham­pi­onship. If he is stressed, you can’t tell. Har­vick sat re­laxed on the wall along pit road with the cav­a­lier at­ti­tude of a driver who isn’t at all wor­ried about win­ning Sun­day. He’ll start sixth in the field.

“We just have to con­trol the things that we can con­trol, try and put our­selves in po­si­tion to where we usu­ally do and see where it all falls,” Har­vick said. “What I like about it is the sense of the un­known, the com­pe­ti­tion, the ef­fort, the thought and ev­ery­thing that goes into that is in­trigu­ing for me.

“From a team stand­point, to see where ev­ery­body is at and how they ap­proach it, is fun to me and I like to see peo­ple per­form­ing and work­ing at that level.”

Har­vick has been in this po­si­tion be­fore at Phoenix, in 2014 when the elim­i­na­tion for­mat de­buted. He de­served to be in the cham­pi­onship race but had to win at Phoenix to qual­ify.

He did win — he routed the field, ac­tu­ally — then won again the next week to claim his first ca­reer Cup ti­tle. He’s also been in must­win sit­u­a­tions in ear­lier rounds of the Chase.

Har­vick has a stel­lar record at Phoenix, where he’s an eight-time Cup win­ner. He’s won five of his last six vis­its to this desert race track — four since he joined Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing in 2014 — and his only de­feat was last November, when he led 143 laps but wound up sec­ond in a rain-short­ened race.

That de­feat, by Mother Na­ture, has Har­vick con­fi­dent the odds of win­ning over and over again won’t turn against him Sun­day.

“You know, we dom­i­nated the end of that race and wound up los­ing it to rain,” he said. “They are a lot eas­ier to lose than they are to win.”

Al­though he joked that his suc­cess at Phoenix was born af­ter a trip to Dis­ney World: “I have magic ... I found this magic wand, and I wave it here,” he finds it “silly” that so many peo­ple as­sume he’s an au­to­matic win­ner Sun­day.

Only the statis­tics back up the pre­dic­tions of a Har­vick win at Phoenix. He’s won six of the last eight races and has barely been con­tested. Har­vick has led an as­tound­ing 1,016 laps in that span and has gen­er­ally forced driv­ers to be­lieve they are rac­ing for sec­ond be­fore they even ar­rive at the track.

The only driver Har­vick be­lieves is in the same league as he is at Phoenix is Dale Earn­hardt Jr., who is side­lined with a con­cus­sion and hasn’t raced since July.

That’s not a slight on his com­pe­ti­tion, and he knows he’s rac­ing five other driv­ers Sun­day for one of two slots in next week­end’s sea­son finale at Home­stead-Mi­ami Speedway. Of the five Chase con­tenders in this third round of the play­offs, only Joey Logano has never won at Phoenix.

But only Kurt Busch, Har­vick’s team­mate at Ste­wartHaas, is in the same pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion. Both of them need to win on Sun­day to ad­vance, and if nei­ther gets to vic­tory lane, SHR will not have a car in the finale. And, be­cause of the cur­rent points sit­u­a­tion, it’s vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for both SHR driv­ers to ad­vance.

The rest of the field — Logano, and Joe Gibbs Rac­ing driv­ers Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Ham­lin — are separated by just two points in the stand­ings. As far as Har­vick is con­cerned, the en­tire Chase field is rac­ing with the same goal on Sun­day.

“Ev­ery­body is in the same po­si­tion that we are,” Har­vick said. “If some­body (in the Chase) wins, there is only go­ing to be one points guy that goes through, so you need to pre­tend like you’re in a must-win sit­u­a­tion.”

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